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Building better, Construction companies integrate technology to improve efficiency

Miron Construction recently invested in several MULEs (Material Unit Lift Enhancers), many of which were used on the new Neenah High School project — the largest masonry project in Miron’s history.

Like many industries, construction is dealing with a shortage of skilled workers both as the current skilled workers age and retire and as the industry competes for new, younger workers.

“A good share of our skilled craftspeople, overall, are at the ages of 55 or over,” says Todd Higgins, director of masonry for Neenah-based Miron Construction. “For the industry to keep pace with the demand, it’s estimated we need roughly 740,000 new construction workers nationwide for the next three years.”

While new technologies alone don’t necessarily solve the problem, they can streamline the process to help contractors get the job done with fewer skilled workers. And some technologies, like robotics, both reduce injuries and downtime and make the job less physically demanding.

One example used in masonry is Miron’s MULEs — Material Unit Lift Enhancers, which the company began implementing for its current Neenah High School project.

“It’s a great product and is definitely helping us out in many, many ways,” Higgins says.

With a combination of factors affecting the construction industry’s labor force — including the pandemic, a post-pandemic rebound, an aging workforce, and a shortage of skilled workers — implementation of the MULEs was a good opportunity for Miron.

“We knew something had to be done,” says Higgins, who took the idea to Miron owners Dave Voss and Tim Kippenhan. He says the executives bought into the concept right away because of its appeal in reducing injuries, fatigue and physical wear on craftspeople.

The company initially purchased 10 units and generators to operate them, investing about $75,000 in each for use in building the new high school — the company’s largest masonry project to date, which is expected to be completed in July 2023.

The concrete blocks used on the project weigh between 77 and 95 pounds, with each worker normally lifting 3,000 pounds throughout a shift. The MULE has a lifting capacity of 150 pounds and is calibrated to carry most of the weight — so a mason might only be lifting 10 pounds for each block.

“We’ve seen the efficiency pickup, the safety pickup, and just talking with the craftspeople that were using them, how they felt at the end of every day,” Higgins says.

So Miron decided to invest in 10 more, also used on smaller projects.

While the MULEs have been in use less than a year, Higgins says the company already is recognizing the value. “Most importantly, with the lack of workforce it’s definitely allowing us to maximize on our construction schedules,” Higgins says. “That’s where that’s really helping. But definitely they are paying for themselves in the long run.”

As with any changes in the workplace, the MULEs were initially a hard sell with workers who have been used to doing things a certain way.

“It’s the old saying: You cannot teach an old dog new tricks,” Higgins says. “But a lot of them were very open-minded. And once they used them, and how they felt at the end of every day — that’s really what sold it.”

Nikki Kallio

Originally Posted to on October 28, 2022 Click to read more.

Robotics, New Tech Changing Face of Construction Industry

Advancements in technology are making construction sites safer, improving efficiency, and allowing for more precise measurements and actions, with industry leaders saying adopting the new technologies could help companies differentiate themselves and stay competitive.

Several companies in and around Rochester are developing and using new construction technologies, and say the use of robotics, drones, and other modern equipment and software is shaping the future of the construction industry by increasing worker productivity and improving project outcomes. Robotics is being used in bricklaying and excavation, while companies are finding a variety of uses for drones and software used to model existing and potential job sites and structures.

Founded in 2007, Victor-based Construction Robotics made a name developing the semiautomated mason, or SAM, which is a bricklaying machine the company says can more than triple a mason’s productivity on a job site and reduce heavy lifting. A SAM prototype was first used alongside masons in 2013 on the local Progressive Machine & Design building, and since then the machine has been rebuilt and brought to market.

“Our company is focused on construction as a whole, but we decided to start with masonry because we wanted to find a repetitive task,” said Zak Podkaminer, the company’s director of strategic initiatives.

Developing SAM put the company on the map, Podkaminer said, and Construction Robotics has grown to employ more than 30 people — up from just seven in 2013 — and the company is continuing to grow and hiring workers at all levels.

Another system developed by the company to lift heavy materials like masonry blocks is now on the market. The material unit lift enhancer, or MULE, is described as a lift assist device and can be used to lift material weighing up to 135 pounds. Podkaminer said the company expects future machines to be able to lift up to 600 pounds.

“It’s designed for pretty much anything,” Podkaminer said of MULE’s capabilities, noting the company has developed several attachments to allow the robot to lift different materials. “It’s a smart lift assist device that allows you to pick something up and basically guide it to where it needs to go — and it makes it feel weightless to the user.”

SAM and MULE don’t replace humans — both machines need human assistance to work — but the robots do increase worker productivity and reduce the physical toll on masons, lowering the risk of injury, according to Podkaminer. Robots and other automation in the construction industry is unlikely to put workers out of a job, he said, but rather allow companies to continue current levels of work as fewer people pursue careers in the field.

Construction Robotics is continually searching for new, innovative solutions to revolutionize the construction industry with equipment for all trades, Podkaminer said. It’s unclear what the company’s next development might be, but there are several other areas of construction the company wants to tackle, Podkaminer said, pointing to roofing, drywall and plastering.

“There’s nothing that’s not on the table, and it really comes down to demand,” he said. “We get reached out to by companies on a daily basis that want us to solve their problems, and we’re always kicking around ideas of what to do and what to tackle next.”

In addition to increasing productivity, technological advances are improving quality and precision on construction sites. Rochester-based distributor Admar Construction Equipment and Supplies is equipping companies with technology to build and document construction in a more precise and data-driven way.

Admar Supply sales manager Rolf Witt said there’s a broad spectrum of technology being used, including highly precise scanners and lasers used in and around a building to take a combination of thousands of photos and measurements, providing a “hugely dense set of data” with measurements in every direction.

Automation on bulldozers is one of Admar’s most popular products, Witt said. Computers and GPS sensors are installed on bulldozers to allow precise grading of job sites, with the blade of the bulldozer moving up and down and tilting automatically based on what a computer is telling it.

“It’s called machine automation, and it’s a type of robotics,” he said. “It’s just like any other type of robot that has sensors that tell it where it is and then it has a data set in the form of a computer and a (computer-aided design) file that tells it where it should be every moment.”

Peter Muench, vice president of preconstruction at LeChase Construction LLC, said drones, or unmanned aircraft, are being used to communicate with earth-moving equipment for site work. Drones are flown above the site and map out the landscape below, relaying that information to machinery on the ground.

Drones can be used to scan existing earth conditions and get quick calculations of earth stockpiles, Muench said, noting the technology is now being used on more than 60 percent of jobs.

“We can actually go through and scan the entire site with a drone, and it’ll tell us in about an hour or two how much material we have to move out of there or bring in,” Muench said, noting it provides highly accurate information in less time and with less manpower.

Information can be relayed back to the company’s offices as well, Muench said, allowing estimators to develop more accurate pricing for future jobs. He said the technology “really drives efficiency out on the site,” and can make a company more competitive bidding future work.

Drones are also being used to inspect multi-story structures, which Muench said provides a safer alternative to having workers examine the outside of the upper stories of a building. Witt said drones inspect roofs and provide price estimates for roofing projects. In the past, an individual would have to drive to a job site and climb up to the roof to take photos of the existing roof and various measurements.

“Now that same guy just goes over, sets up in the parking lot and a drone automatically goes up and flies over the whole roof of the building,” Witt said. “And that takes place over the course of probably 30 minutes… it’s really an amazing technology.”

LeChase is also using drones to communicate with clients, providing the company with an easy, cost-effective way to make time-lapse videos of construction and allowing clients to understand the day-to-day operations on a job site from their offices.

“It’s very helpful for weekly updates for owners and getting good footage of an entire site from good vantage points that you can’t get from a regular photographer,” said Jennifer Miglioratti, director of corporate communications.

Building information modeling, or BIM, is another technology that’s heavily used in construction to provide models of future and existing buildings. It pinpoints the location of pipes and electrical, heating, and cooling systems in a structure.

Though not prevalent yet, some companies are taking BIM a step further and tying it in with augmented reality, or AR, Miglioratti said. LeChase is currently exploring AR, she said, calling it “the next step where you’re wearing that technology and can actually look around as if you’re inside of (a building).”

Muench said there are a lot of technologies that come and go. For that reason, LeChase — a company that has been around for nearly 75 years — is cautious about bringing something new to the market that may not prove itself in the future.

Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Originally Posted to on May, 16 2018. Click to read more.

County Materials Corporation’s MULE Rental Program Changes the Way Masons Build

Marathon, WI, September 2021 – County Materials Corporation and Construction Robotics are partnering to offer masons the MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) lift-assist device, built to handle and place heavy materials on construction sites. The concrete manufacturer established a MULE Rental Program to help architects, masons, and construction professionals achieve greater efficiency and cost savings.

The MULE Method utilizes cutting-edge technology to double the square footage and productivity gains. MULE smart lifting equipment also moves oversized blocks, including County Materials’ Oversized 32” Concrete Masonry Unit, with ease.

The larger block can double the amount of square footage installed in half the time. Designed to reduce per-block cost and regain investments in as little as six months, the MULE also mitigates the risk of injury and low productivity due to fatigue on the job. Click here to watch the MULE in action.

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Welcome To The Construction Industry’s Automated Augment

Construction Robotics has paired engineering intellect with on-site savvy, positioning its unique grasp of real-life conditions on job sites. The historic portrait of the post-work-day construction laborer is receiving a touch-up. Long-imaged as arriving back at home with a bad back, cramped hands, and wrecked neck, today’s construction crews have a few new innovative tools to aid with what ails. Meet SAM and MULE.

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Robotic Assisted Lifting – Masonry Magazine

Can It Help Reinvent Masonry?

Masonry work can be repetitive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. Finding ways to increase productivity with less physical fatigue has long been a goal for the industry. In recent years, advancements in automated and robotic construction technologies have brought about improvements that allow masons to place more and heavier masonry units in less time and with fewer people.

Construction Robotics, based in Victor, NY, has created two solutions [um1] [um2] – one of which is the MULE. It stands for Material Unit Lift Enhancer and, described as a “cobotics” innovation, is more like a strong assistant that allows a mason to place CMUs more efficiently than possible without the help. The MULE ML150 is designed to place material weighing up to 150 pounds.

“Anytime you’re talking about increased production, you’re talking about cost savings,” says Michael Vaughn, brand manager of Echelon and Belgard Commercial. “When you’re able to use fewer pieces on the job due to the larger size, you decrease labor. When you look at people’s wellbeing and health, they aren’t getting as fatigued or strained, because they do not have to do as much labor with the assistance of the MULE.”

Tom Hale is the masonry product manager of County Materials in the Wausau-Stevens Point area of Wisconsin. He first heard of the MULE about four years ago, and started fielding some fact-finding requests shortly after. Hale sat down with representatives of Findorff in Madison, Wisconsin, to discuss the value of 32-inch blocks. Hale received a commitment from Findorff that they would use 12x8x32-inch blocks on two projects.

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Best Block 8 x 32 CMU weighs on the Construction Robotics MULE

Best Block 8 x 32 CMU weighs on the Construction Robotics MULE

Masonry Madness at #WOC2021 offered a prime venue to show the speed and productivity of building with Best Block Company 32-in. Large Format Masonry and the Construction Robotics Material Unit Lift Enhancer, best known as the MULE.

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The MULE at Middleton High School

A Material Unit Lift Enhancer (MULE) system is being used at Middleton High School to assist the mason installers by eliminating the weight of heavy blocks. The MULE does the heavy lifting, which reduces the physical stress on individuals and increases productivity.

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Meet the MULE

Construction Robotics has paired engineering intellect with on-site savvy, positioning its unique grasp of real-life conditions on job sites. The historic portrait of the post-work-day construction laborer is receiving a touch-up. Long-imaged as arriving back at home with a bad back, cramped hands, and wrecked neck, today’s construction crews have a few new innovative tools to aid with what ails. Meet SAM and MULE.

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Marketing Lecturer Wins International Case Writing Competition

Moore School marketing lecturer Doug Quackenbos was recently announced as the winner of the European Foundation for Management Development international case writing competition in the Bringing Technology to Market category for “SAM 100: Will Construction Robotics Disrupt the US Bricklaying Industry?”

Quackenbos won the award with his co-authors: Dominique Turpin, who is the Dentsu Chaired Professor of Marketing and the dean for external relations for the Institute for Management Development in Switzerland and Martin S. Roth, who is currently the president for the University of Charleston in West Virginia.

Read below as Quackenbos explains the case he and his colleagues presented for the EFMD international case writing competition.

What does your case “SAM 100: Will Construction Robotics Disrupt the U.S. Bricklaying Industry” explore? 

This case explores the marketing challenges that a robotics and automation technology start-up faces in the construction industry. By applying Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations’ analysis, students can work through the process of diagnosing what might be impeding sales of the SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) 100 model and then identify which market segments, targets and positioning strategies will help accelerate the adoption of this new innovation in order for it to progress through to a robust product lifecycle. The steps for this analysis include: 1) Robotics and the fear of job loss 2) Diffusion of innovations 3) Branding and naming 4) Business-to-business customer value and benefits 5) Commercialization.


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Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics Acquisition Caps a Break Out Year for Construction Robots

2020 has turned out to be a breakout year for construction robots. From early pioneers like Construction Robotics and Branch Technologies that presented at our Summit in 2016, the industry has seen an explosion of emerging solutions across a broad spectrum of arenas, including 3D printing on and off site, autonomous inspection (such as Boston Dynamics Spot Robot), and also specialty construction applications. News of Hyunadai Motor Group’s intent to acquire a controlling interest in Boston Scientific, valuing Boston Scientific at $1.1 Billion, as part of Hyaundai’s “Smart Mobility” strategy offers some of the strongest validation of the maturation of the construction robotics sector yet.


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